On Friday night, two famous grandfathers fought in a mixed martial arts match on national television for money. One of the grandfathers was Ken Shamrock, who is 51 and was knocked out in the first round by Kimbo Slice, who is 41. Many expected a depressing bout or possibly a snuff film. It was somehow both of those things, but also, it was fun as hell. So Bellator—the fight promotion that is okay with letting famous old people fight—is going back to the well.
News has dropped that none other than Royce Gracie, a 48-year-old legend who is one of the forefathers of MMA and competed in the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship event in 1993, might be interested in throwing on the gloves one last time.
Gracie won UFC 1—a one-night, eight-man tournament—all those years after choking out Shamrock in 57 seconds in the semifinal. The two men fought again to a draw in 1995. Bellator, the UFC’s top competitor, recently signed Gracie as a “brand ambassador.” In an interview, a potential third fight with Shamrock was brought up. Old Man Gracie was all for it! He even sounds like he thinks he has some left in the tank!
“Body feels good, not injured, (I’m) healthy and same weight from 20 years ago,” he said.
That sounds cool and good. As a counterpoint, however, this is what Gracie looks like now:
Damn! Homeboy’s looking ragged! A fight with Shamrock would probably be hilarious, and sad, and a spectacle. This is by design. Bellator can’t compete with the UFC in terms of talent and quality of the fights, so to garner attention, views, and money, Bellator president Scott Coker is using ingenious creative methods.
Shamrock and Gracie are very old, and very diminished, and would be very defenseless against most decent-sized young men who fight professionally, but Shamrock and Gracie also have some mainstream appeal. Their ostensible fight, like the one between Shamrock and Kimbo Slice, would attract curious viewers—and Bellator would stack the undercard with the best, most exciting athletes and matchups. Some of these curious viewers would in turn become fans, and as a result Bellator would profit.
It’s Bellator’s commitment to spectacle that is so impressive, though. Bellator announced that on Sept. 19, they’ll be televising a four-man, one-night tournament, in the spirit of the early UFC. (The one-night tournament format was originally abandoned because of safety concerns.) More importantly, I guess, the one-night tournament format will be a spectacle; people will be curious, and tune in. Others will tune in because the main event fight on Sept. 19 will feature Tito Ortiz, a 40-year-old fighter who wasn’t much to look at even a decade ago but who has some mainstream appeal in part because, a decade ago, he beat the whole shit out of Shamrock in each of their three matches against each other. It all comes around! It gets better!
Ortiz will be fighting for Bellator’s light heavyweight title (the goddamn title!) against Liam McGeary; the victor will defend his belt against whoever emerges from the four-man, one night tournament that will make up the undercard. The winner, of course, is us. Bellator is great and fun.